Chivas USA play their first midweek game of the 2012 season Wednesday, when they take on the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey. Although both teams are coming off of wins heading into the match, the Red Bulls are unquestionably the hottest team in the league at the moment, winning five straight matches and sitting second in the entire league in points. Chivas will certainly have a tall task, but they are riding high following last week's trades and the win over the Galaxy. In order to catch up on what is happening around the Red Bulls, I spoke with Dan Ferris of SB Nation NYRB blog Once a Metro. Thanks very much to Dan for his insight!
The Goat Parade asks Once a Metro:
1. The Red Bulls got off to a rocky start this season, but have settled into a routine and are the hottest team in the league at the moment despite missing stars Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez for sustained periods. What accounts for the shift? Is there any chance this team is in fact better without their DPs?
Not to solely blame circumstance, but the slow start can largely be attributed to starting on the road against Dallas and Real Salt Lake, a tough task for any team out of the gate. Outside of a third sloppy loss against DC United a few weeks further into the season, New York hasn't had a bad match with or without Henry, but that doesn't mean the team is better without him. The same can't necessarily be said for Rafa Marquez, who has shown flashes of the brilliant distribution and over-the-top passing that made him a DP in the first place, but has been largely mediocre, especially compared to the work that Dax McCarty and Joel Lindpere have put in lately in the central midfield.
The overall shift can be attributed to improved squad depth, of which recently acquired Heath Pearce
is just the icing on the cake to (more on that below). It's not just that the Red Bulls have had suitable options when first-team players are missing due to injury or suspension, it's that the team has around fifteen versatile first-team caliber players. That means better training sessions, more competition (so far of the healthy variety) for spots and minutes, and if healthy a roster that can compete on multiple fronts which it could not do last season. What's particularly crazy to think about, is that New York only has three more games against Western Conference opponents after Chivas, and only one of which is away from Red Bull Arena.
2. What did you think of the recent trade between New York and Chivas, and what is the general attitude about the acquisition of Heath Pearce?
I think the trade is a major win for the Red Bulls. Agudelo never blossomed in New York the way many fans would have liked. Some blame Hans Backe
for not cultivating young talent, others point to Agudelo publicly complaining about New York's style of play and requiring an intervention from Jozy Altidore
and Tim Ream
about his club training habits as to why he might not have gotten the chance he thought he deserved.
Heath Pearce is an immediate starter that provides defensive depth for New York at both fullback and center back. Pearce is relatively young, affordable, and has international experience but isn't likely to be called away from the team by Jurgen Klinsmann any time soon. The trade also sets New York up to bring in an additional player or two this summer. Considering the murmurs that Luke Rodgers
may be rejoining the club when the transfer window re-opens this summer and that New York has a designated player spot to use, likely on an attacking player, Agudelo was never going to get the minutes he needs to grow as a player and reach his ultimate goals of playing in Europe and being a starter for the senior men's national team. Hopefully the trade works out for everyone, especially since Chivas and New York only have to play once per season!
3. I know the club has struggled over the years, and I know the team is playing very well at the moment, but what is the ultimate goal of this team in 2012? Do you think they can fulfill that objective?
The goal is to win MLS Cup. Last year the club got a little ahead of itself making comments that the Supporters' Shield is the real goal, but especially with an unbalanced schedule this year, the best team in the league will be determined by who lifts the trophy at the end of the playoffs.
With the Red Bulls having such a good stretch relying on mostly reserve players, it would not be unfathomable that this team could compete on all fronts including for the Shield and the U.S. Open Cup. It's Hans Backe and Erik Soler's third year at the helm, and not winning one of the three major MLS prizes and failing to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions league should be unacceptable. With the pieces and squad depth they have assembled, the Red Bulls should be in the hunt for that Champions League spot one way or another.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for Wednesday's game?
Sadly for the Goats, I don't think they can generate the offense to pull off an upset at Red Bull Arena. I've got New York winning 2-0, and entering a 2 1/2 week break from MLS league play on an historic six-game winning streak.
Once a Metro Asks The Goat Parade:
1) What has the reaction been around Chivas' two recent trades, particularly the swapping of Heath Pearce and allocation money for Juan Agudelo?
I think there's an excitement surrounding the team that I haven't seen in quite some time. Heading into the season, it seemed Chivas made some moves to make them a better team, perhaps even a playoff contender. Although there has been improvement, and Chivas' road form has been good this season, the improvement wasn't quite at the level I think all would expect through the first 10 matches. Fans have been looking at head coach Robin Fraser
and General Manager Jose Domene to make some significant moves, and the trades last week were along the lines of what folks were hoping for. Pearce was playing out of position at center back for Chivas, and Danny Califf
is a natural center back. The hope is that Califf can stabilize the defense. And Chivas are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league so far this season, and getting Agudelo, in addition to new signing Jose Correa
from Colombia, will hopefully help jumpstart the attack.
I think Chivas fans liked Pearce and thought he was one of the team's best players in 2011. He's shown more inconsistency in 2012, however, and he was perhaps the team's best trade chip. I think he would prefer to play at full back, but he now has some experience playing center back as well. Since the Red Bulls had an embarrassment of riches at forward and Chivas desperately need scoring, there is considerable hope Agudelo can really catch on and help his new team right away. All in all, there is considerable enthusiasm surrounding this team at the moment.
2) Seven of Chivas' first eleven matches have ended 1-0 (three wins and four losses). What does this say about the team and its approach, and do you expect the trend to continue?
I think a few factors have been at play for all those 1-0 and 0-1 results. First, Chivas have played one of the hardest schedules this season, and they started the season playing a very conservative formation since Fraser was concerned about potential defensive frailties. In addition, as I've noted they haven't exactly been a free-scoring team, and so when they have scored they've only gotten a goal more often than not. On the other hand, I think the narrow losses have indicated that this team has been solid defensively overall, only suffering one bad loss this season, to Colorado. Although giving up late goals has been a problem lately, the real issue for me has been that when they go behind, they are unable to get back into the match and even up the score. Hopefully the new strikers will help provide scoring. I think Chivas is a team that may not play a beautiful brand of football, admittedly, but they will be competitive nearly every match and keep it close.
3) The last time Chivas USA visited Red Bull Arena, Justin Braun scored three goals in fifty-six minutes. Where will the team's offense come from Wednesday night against New York?
Obviously without Braun Chivas cannot expect him to replicate his magic from last season in Harrison. And while that was undoubtedly a great performance for Braun, the reality is that he was not a reliable scorer at all last season, as he scored eight goals on the season, but only scored in four games. Against the Red Bulls, all three goals were needed for the win, but Braun's inconsistency on the season made him a maddening player to watch at times.
I think the narrative Chivas fans and neutrals would like to see would be Agudelo scoring on his old team, but he's off with the U.S. Men's National Team this week and will not be available. So the burden falls to Correa, who has scored two goals in three appearances since joining the team, as well as midfielder Miller Bolanos, who has looked dangerous since joining in the offseason and has yet to score a goal of his own with Chivas. Juan Pablo Angel has played limited minutes so far in 2012, but if he is healthy and on the field he will be expected to contribute to the scoring as well. His output last season after joining Chivas, when he scored seven goals in nine matches, indicates he still has the ability to make a big impact. Finally, fellow veteran Alejandro Moreno has never been known for his scoring volume, but he does pop up occasionally with timely goals. These players all need to step up, and are still learning to work as teammates, but the attack looks better in the past three weeks than it did the previous month, and that's a good sign for Chivas.